[VIEWPOINT]The West’s family quarrel easesThe nice thing about family quarrels is that there comes a time when all sides take stock, pull back and reconsider. We may have reached this point in the oldest Western family, the European-American alliance, which has been around for 50-odd years, but has fought among itself for months on end.
Go back to the beginning of this year when France and Germany suddenly behaved no longer as friends, but as enemies of the United States. Together with Russia, this continental duo went to diplomatic war with Washington on Iraq. No, they would not support a war resolution in the U.N. Security Council, and, yes, they would try their hardest to stop the American giant in his tracks.
And the United States? It made clear to friends and foes alike that it would act on its own. Rather than submit to the Security Council, where France has veto power, it would go after Saddam Husseiin with a “coalition of the willing.” And so it did.
Now back to the present ― a time of reconsideration and sobering up. Suddenly, Washington is plying the corridors of the United Nations in search of assistance in Iraq. The action recalls an old Beatles song: “Please, please, help me.” It turns out that a marvelous arsenal of high-tech weapons and “network-centric warfare” is not enough. It is wonderful for winning a war quickly and decisively. But stand-off missiles and satellites are not very useful when it comes to the next, and most critical, step.
In the military operations of the West since the end of the Cold War, “breaking the enemy’s will,” as the famous Prussian theoretician of war Carl von Clausewitz put it, was only the first objective. The central purpose has always been “regime change.” It was easy to eliminate the regimes of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia and of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But the hard part is what comes next: installing a new regime, controlling the territory, rebuilding the infrastructure and the economy, and “winning the hearts and minds” of the people. And this is why the United States is suddenly back at the United Nations. It wants help, but does not want to relinquish command.
What about the Europeans? Interestingly, they are resisting cheap triumphalism ― “we told you so.” Though some key states opposed the war, they know that there is no profit in America’s failure. The threat to their, and the West’s, security emanates from failed states, rogue regimes and international terrorism. All the enemies of liberal democracy are keeping a watchful eye on Baghdad. If the experiment fails, their encouragement will follow. And as the attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad shows, the target is not only the United States.
Hence the new tone in the Western family quarrel. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, who has been frozen out by Washington, is trying to mend fences. There is now a lively debate in Berlin as to whether Germany should get involved in Iraq. The chancellor, for the time being, has said “no.” But his defense minister seems to be more forthcoming. If there is a UN resolution, and if NATO is asked, the reasoning goes, Germany will have to help. Presumably, this is also the thinking at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
So the West is in the midst of a “family reunion,” as so often occurred in its turbulent history since the end of World War II. The Bush administration has come to understand that unilateralism does not work in the most interesting cases. When it comes to fighting terrorism, protectionism, the global AIDS epidemic, when it comes to dealing with rogue states and failed states, maximum cooperation is a must. It took a while, but better late than never.
And the Europeans are beginning to understand that it is a nasty world out there that does not follow the benign and cooperative rules of the European Union. Talking is good, but if there is not the mailed fist behind the silken glove of diplomacy, talk just remains talk. Or as the Al Capone character in the TV series “The Untouchables” once put it: “You get a lot farther with a smile and a gun in your hand than with a smile alone.”
The next chapter in this story will depend on the United States. It will have to convince the Security Council to pass a resolution of assistance. But let the Europeans beware: The UN cannot take care of security, the most pressing task in Iraq right now. As the experience in Bosnia and Kosovo has shown, some force like NATO has to take care of security first; then the U.N. can move in and deal with schools, water and administrative matters.
So somebody has to be in charge of security, and it won’t be the UN. Let NATO do it under the supreme command of the American superpower, for the UN does not have the guns and the credibility. But the United States will have to let its friends share in the decision-making. After all, why should they buy into this enterprise if they can’t get voting stock?
* The writer is the editor of Die Zeit, the German weekly, and an associate at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.
by Josef Joffe